Bringing butterflies back
However, if you think that our gardens and fields are looking a little emptier than they once were, you’d be right.
In March this year, the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology (CEH) announced that 2016 was the fourth worst year for butterflies since recording started in 1976.
Some species, such as grizzled skipper and white letter hairstreak, had their worst year ever.
CEH reports that overall, 76% of all butterflies found in the UK have declined in abundance, occurrence, or both.
This is a disturbing statistic; but it also points to worrying trends affecting other wildlife species and our wider environment.
Unfortunately, it is very hard to pinpoint the cause of decline, especially as the drop off is widespread and gradual, not triggered by a single event.
Habitat destruction, increasing atmospheric pollution and our changing climate are all contributing factors.
Bizarre weather and warm winters can also increase the incidence of parasites, which can overwhelm our butterflies and further their decline.
How wonderful, therefore, that some species present on Berks, Bucks and Oxon Wildlife Trust (BBOWT) nature reserves have managed to increase.
We believe this is because of careful land management, ensuring that plenty of larval food plants (those eaten by caterpillars) are available for adult butterflies to lay their eggs on.
At BBOWT we monitor butterflies every year. They are charismatic and beautiful with a special value of their own; but they are also useful as an indicator species revealing the health of their local environment.
We have an ‘army’ of more than 50 trained volunteers who, alongside the staff, walk set transect routes each week throughout the survey season (running from April 1 until September 29). Any butterflies spotted up to 2.5 metres either side of the route, as well as in front of the walker, are recorded.
BBOWT is responsible for 40 of these routes based in several reserves. The data are collected as part of the Butterfly Monitoring Scheme, which is used by the government to track the health of the environment across the UK.
Although butterflies can be seen on almost any of BBOWT’s reserves, Homefield Wood near Marlow and Yoesden near Radnage come highly recommended for beautiful species this summer.
You could encourage some butterflies into your back garden if you have one.
By planting fragrant flowers that bloom from spring until the autumn (sometimes more than one type of plant might be necessary), you are ensuring that the butterflies will have a reliable source of food throughout their flight season.
Alternatively, allowing a corner where larval food plants such as nettles and thistles can grow wild, will also attract butterflies into your garden.
If you’d like to find out more about butterfly conservation, BBOWT and local nature reserves see butterfly-conservation.org and www.bbowt.org.uk.